WHO Says Coronavirus Death Rate Is 3.4 Percent — but That It's Likely Lower Due to Unreported Cases

As the number of deaths related to coronavirus worldwide continues to climb, the World Health Organization says that the death rate is now around 3.4 percent, higher than previously believed — but underreporting of cases is likely skewing those numbers.

“Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, said in a news conference on Tuesday.

However, that number is based on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus — which is currently nearing 98,000 worldwide — contrasted with the number of deaths, at 3,347 as of March 5. Experts say that total number of cases is likely much higher.

The number of cases does not include instances in which people had mild symptoms and did not go to a doctor and ended up recovering on their own. It also does not account for cases that have not yet been identified, such as in the U.S., where testing is just beginning to expand nationwide.

Another expert at WHO, Dr. Bryce Aylward, a lead on the organization’s coronavirus task force, said he expects that the final death rate will be between 1 to 2 percent, The New York Times reported. In the U.S., leaders at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control say it could be below 1 percent.

Previously, the death rate was thought to be around 2.3 percent, based on a Chinese study from Feb. 11. According to the researchers, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the vast majority of people who get coronavirus are not seriously at risk, and about 81 percent of cases were mild.

The fatality rate of 2.3 percent was also likely skewed, they said, as the rate in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak that struggled with effective hospital care for infected patients, was 2.9 percent, while the rest of China was at just 0.4 percent.

The mild symptoms also mean that they are harder to spot, as they don’t appear to be that different from the common cold, another type of coronavirus. That means people may not realize that they have coronavirus and continue their usual activities while inadvertently spreading the disease.

“If infection does not cause serious disease, infected people probably will not end up in health care centers. Instead, they will go to work and travel, thereby potentially spreading the virus to their contacts, possibly even internationally,” researchers said in the New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 20.

To reduce the spread in the U.S., the CDC is recommending that Americans stay home at any signs of a fever or respiratory problems and call their doctor to get tested. As far as prevention, the CDC says that following basic hygiene practices, such as hand washing and avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing, is the best course of action.


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